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The Situation Room

U.S. Hurtles Toward Government Shutdown Amid House GOP Civil War; Sen. Bob Menendez Rejects Calls To Resign After Bribery Charges; Ukraine Says, Our Attack Killed Russia's Black Sea Fleet Commander; Trump Rails Against Milley, Media, PA Voter Registration; Agreement Need To Be Ratified By Writers Guild, Writers Could Potentially Be Back To Work Within Days. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 25, 2023 - 18:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Is there any hope of a breakthrough as time is running out?

Also tonight, Senator Bob Menendez refusing to step down despite growing pressure from fellow Democrats after his bribery indictment. What Menendez is saying and not saying about the evidence against him, including those gold bars and wads of cash.

And Ukraine says it struck a critical blow to Putin's navy, claiming the commander of the Black Sea fleet was killed during a major attack in Russia-occupied Crimea. Kyiv now accusing the Kremlin of seeking revenge.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Pamela Brown and you're in The Situation Room.

First this hour and the nation on the brink of a financial crisis, U.S. government funding is set to run out at midnight on Saturday, and right now, there's no solution in sight as Republican hard liners stand firm in their rebellion.

Let's go straight to CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, what is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy saying and doing as a shutdown nears?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's trying to pressure those members on the far right that refuse to go along with his spending plans, to pass a short-term funding bill, to keep the government open past Saturday, 11:59 P.M. But there's a problem, Kevin McCarthy does not have this votes. He can only afford to lose four Republican votes. He is at the moment could lose up to seven or even ten members who refuse to vote for a short-term plan no matter what. And they are warning if you are to turn around and cut a deal with Democrats on this, that could be enough to cost him his speakership. Only one member could call such a vote. That has been threatened for the last several weeks.

And I asked him the speaker just moments ago, this afternoon, whether or not he is making a calculation to not work with Democrats over concerns that a vote could come to seek his ouster if he were to go to bipartisan route.


RAJU: How much of the fact that if you do cut a deal with Democrats, there could be a vote to push you out? How much is that driving your decision-making right now?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Nothing drives my decision. If that was driving my decision, wouldn't that have driven my decision-making 15 times before? My --

RAJU: But you could have cut a deal with Democrats and that could be the end of it?

MCCARTHY: Did I cut a deal then?

RAJU: When for the --

MCCARTHY: Well, with 15 rounds --

RAJU: No, I'm talking about right now --

MCCARTHY: But let me explain something to you. I'm no different than I was then or before. My whole focus was in my mind what drives me is the American people.

I'm not worried if someone makes a motion. I'm not worried if somebody votes no.


RAJU: But at the moment, the House Republicans are still planning to go forward with a strategy that has not been successful in the last couple of weeks, try to pass long-term spending bills that simply don't have the support to become law and try to convince those members to get behind a short-term plan to keep the government open for at least a few weeks as they try to negotiate a longer term spending plan for the entire federal government. None of that has the votes at the moment.

So, at the moment, Pamela, there are negotiations that are happening among Senate leaders, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, to try to find some sort of deal that can pass that chamber. But there are still questions about how quick that can pass and whether it could ultimately get approved by the Republican-led House, all raising these concerns around Washington that it could be barreling into a shutdown by the end of this week. And the question also, how long that will last, something that a lot of people have as fears are now growing, that that possibility is real. Pamela?

BROWN: All right. Manu Raju, thanks so much. Stand by. We're going to be back with you in just a moment. But now, we want to go over to the White House where the president and his team are issuing new warnings about the impact of a shutdown on the American people and U.S. economy.

CNN's Senior White House Correspondent M.J. Lee has the latest on that. M.J., walk us through the Biden administration's strategy as the deadline gets closer.

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, the White House is trying to do several things here, but at least on the messaging front, they are very much wanting the label of a Republican shutdown to really stick. And what we are hearing from White House officials, the argument that they're trying to make is, look, Democrats and Republicans came together several months ago and they reached a broad agreement on federal spending levels and now the White House officials are saying if Kevin McCarthy, the House speaker, is unable to get certain members of his party to fall in line. So, really, Pam, the political bet that the White House is making is that if there ends up being a shutdown that Republicans would largely be to blame.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierrre talked about this earlier. Take a listen.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're going to be very clear. This is -- this will be a Republican shutdown, right? This is extreme House Republicans who have made it very clear that the chaos that we're seeing in the House, they are marching us towards a government shutdown. That shouldn't be happening. This shouldn't be happening. This is the job of Congress.


One of the basic jobs of Congress is to keep the government open.

This is a deal that they all agreed upon not too long ago, just a couple of months ago, and now they can't stick to the deal.


LEE: And we just heard from President Biden himself as well. He said that it was a small group of extreme House Republicans that are reneging on the deal that was reached several months ago and that they are willing to let the government shutdown. So, as we inch closer to the possibility of a shutdown, Pam, expect the White House to continue this kind of finger-pointing at House Republicans.

BROWN: All right. M.J., stay with us. We're also joined again by Manu Raju and Mark Zandi, the chief economist from Moody's Analytics.

So, Mark, let's start with you. The government will shut down this weekend without action from Congress. How would that impact the U.S. economy?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: It's not good. The economy's struggling with a bunch of headwinds. We've got the UAW strike, we've got student loan borrowers that are going to have to start repaying on that debt. We've got higher interest rates. We've got oil prices that are rising, gasoline back up to $4 a gallon. So, a lot depends on how long the government is shut down for.

But any length of time, even a couple three weeks, that's going to do a fair amount of damage. And, of course, if it drags on longer than that and rivals the longest in history, the one back in 2018-'19, when it was almost a month, it's going to start showing up in the economic data. And then anything longer than that, I think the economy is in jeopardy.

BROWN: M.J., as you just laid out, the White House is framing this as a Republican shutdown led by extremists and it's stepping up its rhetoric against a shutdown, warning about significant consequences and programs that will be lost if that happens, basically appealing to the everyday American. Tell us more about that.

LEE: Yes, that's right, Pam. Even as White House officials are eager to do this kind of finger-pointing, they're also trying to make very clear that a shutdown is really the last thing that this White House wants. And what they are doing in the course of the next week or so is bringing out senior administration officials to try to paint a picture of sort of the everyday real America ramifications if a government, if the government were to shutdown.

We saw this playing out in the White House briefing room earlier today when we saw Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack come out to the briefing room podium and talk about some of the different ways in which a shutdown would really have ramifications for people across the country. One of the things we heard him talk about is this WIC program. That is an important food safety program that affects women, infants, children across the country.

And when I asked the secretary, is there any way in which the administration could exercise some kind of authority to extend that program if the government were to shutdown, he simply said no. There is no authority that the administration has to do that.

So, again, the White House is in the position of trying to blame Republicans for what might be to come and also just make a lot of warnings clear that if this were to happen, there would be dire consequences for people across the country.

BROWN: And, Manu, Donald Trump is weighing in on social media, on his social media account telling Republicans in all caps, quote, unless you get everything, shut it down. How much is this likely to embolden the hardliners?

RAJU: Well, it's not helpful to Kevin McCarthy's message. In fact, he is telling his conference the opposite, telling those same hardliners who are very close to Donald Trump that a shutdown would be bad politically, says, I don't see how anyone wins in a shutdown, trying to make the case of all the things -- people that would go without pay, whether it's folks along the border, border security agents, military personnel and the like, and that is not good politics to shut things down. That is the view of also the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has argued that this could be a significant backlash for the GOP.

But those members don't take their marching orders from the Senate Republican leader and certainly not the speaker of the House despite the pressure campaign. They are more in line with Trump on this issue. So, at this point, while the speaker is trying to pressure them to cave, he's not facing -- he's not getting much help from the former president who's essentially telling them to do opposite.

BROWN: So, at this point, it's unclear what's going to happen, right? But what we do know, what is clear is there's a lot of dysfunction right now on Capitol Hill. So, on that note, what I'm curious about, Mark, is with this level of dysfunction, getting so close to a potential government shutdown, is this something Moody's would take into account when deciding on the U.S. credit rating? We know earlier this summer that Fitch downgraded the U.S. credit rating. What's your take?

ZANDI: Well, I'm not going to comment on the ratings, but, obviously, this goes to the governance of the U.S. government. It's on top of the drama we experienced just a couple three months ago regarding the treasury debt limit. And, of course, our fiscal situation is problematic.


I mean, if we don't make changes to policy tax and spending policy, our deficits and debt are going to rise. So, a combination of bad fiscal outlook without policy changes given the dysfunctions, we can't even keep government open let alone pass legislation that's wide ranging to address these long-term economic problems. And these governance issues, obvious dysfunction, it doesn't add up to a very pretty picture. What that means for ratings is a totally different story, but, clearly, it doesn't argue well for our own fiscal future.

BROWN: M.J., a lot of finger-pointing going on. As you've reported, Republicans, that when you look at the past, they have generally faced the brunt of the political fallout from past shutdowns. What is the concern in the White House in terms of if it could play out differently this time with President Biden facing blame?

LEE: Well, Pam, if the White House is making the political bet right now that if there were a government shutdown, that Republicans would shoulder much of that blame. Yes, the reality is that that is not a guarantee. We don't know if voters are ultimately going to sort of make that distinction between President Biden and Capitol Hill and lawmakers overall.

We saw some of this play out back in the spring during the debt ceiling negotiations. Yes, it is very much possible that President Biden himself, even if he personally believes this is the fault of Republicans, that he could take a bit of a hit in public polling, for example. So, yes, the White House is making the public bet that Republicans will end up shouldering much of the political sort of blame if there were a shutdown, but, again, it is not guaranteed that every voter is going to feel that way.

BROWN: All right. Thanks to you all. Be sure to catch Inside Politics Sunday with Manu Raju every weekend.

And just in to CNN, we have some new reporting from Fulton County, Georgia, where the judge has just issued an order having to do with the safety of people involved in the Trump election subversion trial. That's next.

Plus, a second Democratic senator is calling for embattled Democrat Bob Menendez's recognition from Congress in the wake of the explosive bribery allegations against him.

You're in The Situation Room. We'll be right back.



BROWN: Just in to CNN, the judge overseeing the election subversion case in Georgia against Trump has issued an order to protect the identities of jurors during any trials in the case.

CNN's Sara Murray is working this story. So, tell us more about this order and its potential impact here, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, the prosecutors had asked for an order to essentially make sure that the jurors' potential identities were kept secret, any jurors who were chosen for any of the trials related to this Trump case in Fulton County, because, of course, we know they're going to be divvied up in some kind of capacity, with the first defendants set to go in October.

And, essentially, a media coalition that included CNN took issue with how broad the district attorney's office ask was for keeping some of these identities secret. They've now reached an agreement. The judge has issued this order essentially saying, you can't release identifying information of the jurors during this trial, so no video, no sketches of them. They're going to be referred to by numbers, so they can't be referred to by any sort of personal identifying information that would make their identities known while the trials are going on.

And this comes after we saw with the grand jury that handed up the indictment a number of their supposed names, addresses, identities were posted on the internet. Law enforcement had to get involved. A number of them started receiving threats. So, the district attorney's office was trying to sort of head that off at the pass this time. There was a little bit, you know, maneuvering behind the scenes with the media coalition to try to come to an agreement that would allow reporters to sort of fairly report on what the rough makeup of these juries looks like without compromising people's safety.

MURRAY: All right. So, Sara, stay right here, much more to discuss.

I want to bring in our legal and law enforcement experts. Andy, to you, Andy McCabe, your reaction to this order, you know, amid real safety concerns. ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, Pam, I think it's totally understandable and kind of expected. I remember the evening the indictment came out. I remember sitting in the studio with colleagues reading through it as quickly as we could, where many of us were shocked to see that the names of the grand jurors were included in the indictment, which is not something we see in the federal system, but it is a requirement in Georgia State law. And so, obviously, they had some of those folks who are identified online and were the subject of threatening contacts as a result of that exposure.

And, clearly, what the prosecution is doing is here, is trying to get out in front of that to make sure that folks in the jury pool, potential jurors, and also those who are actually selected to be one of the final 12, won't experience that sort of aggressive, threatening activity.

BROWN: Jennifer, what do you make of this, given the context around the case?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I agree with Andy. I mean, as a legal matter, you just need to make sure that you're protecting the defendant's rights. It's still a public trial, the defendant, and all of their lawyers will still be able to see the jurors. They'll know demographic information about the prospective jurors so that they can choose their jury, knowing as much as they're entitled to know. This really just stops the rest of us, right, people who would watch on T.V. from knowing who they are.

And there's really no reason, frankly, that all of us out there in T.V. land need to get our eyes on the jury, right, as long as it's fair to the defendant, and we know that the process is being handled the way that it should.

So, I think it's a good thing. I think it will lead to a fairer trial, certainly for prosecutors. You don't want jurors concerned that if they convict defendants that they might have something bad happen to them or their families, I think it will be better for everyone all around.

BROWN: Sara, I want to bring you in on Cassidy Hutchinson. She, of course, worked inside the Trump White House while Trump was allegedly pressuring Georgia officials. She was that star witness for the January 6th committee. She is now speaking out. Tell us what she's saying.

MURRAY: That's right. She is speaking out. She has a book coming out, and so she's started to sort of come out publicly. She's talked a little bit about sort of what her life was like immediately in the aftermath of testifying before the January 6th committee, how she sort of became isolated after that. There were a lot of security concerns for her. She said she even relocated to Atlanta for a couple of months.

And, remember, when she testified before the January 6th committee, one of the sort of blockbuster moments she described was this moment that allegedly happened on January 6th where Trump really wanted to go to the Capitol, where he allegedly lunged at a Secret Service agent in The Beast when they told him that they would not redirect to the Capitol.


And you know, the Secret Service agent says he doesn't remember that incident. The person who allegedly told Cassidy Hutchinson the story said he doesn't remember that incident. Hutchinson is standing by all of that in this interview that she did with CBS.

And she's making very clear that it frankly would have been easier for her in all of this just to stay silent and to stay loyal to Trump and his allies. And that's why people should believe her. Take a listen to what she said.


CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Because what would I have to gain by coming forward? You know, it would have been easier for me to continue being complicit and to stay in the comfortable zone of I had some sense of security, a semblance of security. I knew people that I could easily reach out to for jobs. I had friends.


MURRAY: And again, the interviewer here was sort of saying, why should people believe your version of events? Originally, there was so much that you wouldn't share with the January 6th committee. You had these pro-Trump lawyers. You then got new lawyers. You changed your version of events. You showed up for this blockbuster testimony. And she's sort of saying, look, my life would have been a lot easier if I had stayed quiet this whole time.

BROWN: Andy, Hutchinson is also standing by your account that Trump lunged at the driver of his presidential limo in an attempt to go to the Capitol on January 6th. I remember when she testified to that that was a massive deal. There's been a lot of focus on that account and a lot of pushback of that account. How significant is her standing by that?

MCCABE: Well, you know, I think, Pam, it's interesting that she relayed that account not as a firsthand witness. She wasn't claiming to have been inside the limo, but rather as a result of a conversation that she had with one of the Secret Service agents who were present and understood what had happened.

She related where they were when they had the conversation. She related how that individual seemed very stressed and anxious about what had taken place. And so she included that in her testimony.

I don't really think there's any reason whatsoever to believe that she has created this anecdote out of whole cloth. There's no reason to. And she's not putting herself in a situation that she wasn't in. It's simply something she heard from someone else.

Is it possible that that person told her a version of events that wasn't true? I suppose it is. But I doubt it. I think in the heat of the moment, these two colleagues exchanged a significant conversation and she related it truthfully to the panel. That's the impression that I get from her.

BROWN: Jennifer, Hutchinson testified before the grand jury in Washington and Fulton County. How could her testimony have impacted the criminal cases against Trump? Do you view her as a credible witness?

RODGERS: I think she is a credible witness. I think that there are some issues, though, going forward now that you're actually in a trial court setting. One is the hearsay problem. As Andy alluded to, you know, it's not entirely clear that all of what she told the committee and even the grand juries. I mean, some testimony -- hearsay testimony is allowed in the grand jury. That won't necessarily make it into the courtroom. It will depend on whether they can find an exception to the hearsay rule.

The other thing is prosecutors don't love it when their witnesses are out giving interviews, writing books. You know, it both creates a lot of statements that you'll want to make sure are all consistent for her testimony on the stand. And now that she's written a book, you could argue she now has a bias, if you will. She now wants to sell books. And so she has an incentive to make these kind of inflammatory or at least explosive statements.

So, you know, we'll see what happens when she actually gets called as a witness. It may be that her testimony is paired down than what we've heard from her before.

BROWN: All right, thank you to you all, much appreciated.

And be sure to stay with CNN for Jake Tapper's interview with Cassidy Hutchinson. That airs tomorrow on The Lead beginning at 4:00 P.M. Eastern.

Coming up right here on CNN, Ukraine claims it has killed the commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet. Is that a significant blow to Vladimir Putin's war?



BROWN: New tonight, Ukraine says its recent attack on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea fleet killed the fleet's commander and more than 30 other officers. And now, Moscow appears to be hitting back, launching a deadly attack on the Ukrainian port city of Odessa that reportedly caused, quote, significant damage, officials in Kyiv calling it a pathetic attempt at retaliation.

Let's get more on this with our experts on Russia and the military. Major John Spencer, I want to start with you. Just how significant is it if Ukraine killed the commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet?

MAJ. JOHN SPENCER, AUTHOR, UNDERSTANDING URBAN WARFARE: It's huge, Pamela. I mean, that's the highest level officer of the Black Sea fleet. The Black Sea fleet is the key to Crimea. And it also came with, reportedly, most of his staff. So, that would be a huge crippling blow to the Black Sea fleet, for sure.

BROWN: Colonel Leighton, I want to go to you. Why does Ukraine see these repeated attacks on Crimea as so essential to the overall strategy?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think, Pamela, the big reason that they see this as essential is they understand how the Russian military works. The Russian military is a top-down driven structure. And the way, as John mentioned, you know, you've got the commander there, that person is solely responsible the different movements of the Black Sea fleet.


And the Ukrainians see this as basically taking out that simple node. And when they take out that node, that makes it really difficult for the Russians to move forward with their battle plans, with all of their efforts, and, frankly, with their effort to control the grain exports that Ukraine has.

So, it's a huge effort for them to do this, but their targeting has been extremely accurate on the Ukrainian side.

BROWN: And if it is accurate, if this claim is accurate, Jill, how much of a blow would that be to Russian morale? How much of a problem is this becoming for Vladimir Putin and his forces?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Oh, I think it's a very big problem. And sometimes when big news happens, big bad news happens in Russia or for Russia, the silence tells you that it's serious. And right now, there's no confirmation, there's no denial, there's really not much of any reaction to this news. And I think that's significant. They really probably do not know what to say at this point. It would be, I think, extremely serious.

The only thing that I've seen is kind of an uptick in the, I would call it, kind of apocalyptic comments on social media and the Russian state-controlled media of revenge, destroying Ukraine completely, that type of thing, which also, to me, lends credence to this theory that it's really very bad for Russia.

BROWN: That's really interesting context.

John, the first delivery of the U.S. Abrams tanks, they have now arrived in Ukraine ahead of schedule. How does Ukraine integrate these tanks into the counteroffensive?

SPENCER: Very carefully. What great news that they may get there in time for the counteroffensive. That's actually great news. Now, I commanded with Bradleys and tanks in combat. That tank will dominate the battlefield. Of course, they're coming in limited numbers, initially of 31 package, but they -- the sighting systems, the range of the weapons systems, the accuracy of it, it's just the best thing on the ballot bill, the no-calls (ph) havoc. But the Ukraine's have to put it in very carefully.

BROWN: Colonel Leighton, I had asked John Kirby, Admiral Kirby from the White House, about this, he didn't want to confirm it, but there are reports that the U.S. could soon send longer range ATACMS, these missiles, to Ukraine as well. Why has the U.S. held out for so long when Ukraine says these weapons are so critical in the war?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think the main fear, Pamela, was that Russia would be provoked by these ATACMS. And if the Army Tactical Missile System, the ATACMS system, got into Ukrainian hands, the fear was that it would provoke Russia to escalate further than it has already done so. In essence, they were worried about a tactical nuclear weapon or something like that.

But up until this point, the Russians have not responded in that way. Their responses have been more likely to see with the attack on Odessa. And that's the kind of thing that we can expect from the Russians up until this point because they know that if they use a tactical nuclear weapon, it will be very dangerous for them and the consequences would be very serious.

BROWN: Jill, to wrap it up with you, what do you think Putin strategy is as the grueling winter months approach.

DOUGHERTY: Oh, I think he will probably pull out the playbook from last year and try to go after heating and energy infrastructure. He's already beginning to do that, somewhat. I think -- sadly, I think there will be more really saturation bombing. There's an element here of just flailing, trying to get back at the Ukrainians because the Ukrainians actually are making some progress.

And that was denied on in the media today, you know, failed to take any ground, et cetera, but I do think there's concern. I do think there's a concern about the Abrams tanks. They know that they could be significant.

BROWN: All right, nice to you all, much appreciated.

And just ahead, Senator Bob Menendez remains defiant in the face of his indictment on bribery charges, but some of his fellow Democrats are not standing in his corner. That's next.



BROWN: Senator Bob Menendez's political problems are growing after his indictment on bribery charges. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is now the second Senate Democrat to call for his resignation, and at least one New Jersey Democrat has announced a primary challenge against Menendez.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Lauren Fox has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A defiant Senator Bob Menendez, vowing not to resign as he faces down federal corruption charges.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be the New Jersey's senior senator.

FOX: Menendez facing a barrage of pressure to step aside. Fellow Democratic Senator John Fetterman tweeting, quote, he's entitled to the presumption of innocence, but he cannot continue to wield influence over national policy.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): The situation is quite unfortunate, but I do believe that it is in the best interests for Senator Menendez to resign in this moment.

FOX: They are calls Menendez says are premature, as he offers new explanations, rebutting the allegations.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Any New Jersey voters watching right now who may have concerns that again you're facing scrutiny over corruption, what is your response to them?

MENENDEZ: The response to that is simply that, number one, this inquiry will end up, I believe, in absolutely nothing.

FOX: In an indictment last week, federal prosecutors alleged Menendez received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in the form of cash, gold and a luxury vehicle in exchange for the senator's influence. Prosecutors say some of that evidence included DNA and fingerprints of one of the business contacts Menendez allegedly accepted bribes from.


MENENDEZ: For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.

Now, this may seem old fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years.

FOX: Menendez now faces a Democratic primary challenge from Representative Andy Kim, one of six members of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation calling on him to resign.

REP. ANDY KIM (D-NJ): There are a lot of concerns about his integrity, and I think it's important that we do everything we can to restore faith from the American people in their government. So, that's why I'm stepping up to run against him.

FOX: Democratic Leader Dick Durbin stops short of calling for resignation. SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): This is a very serious charge. There's no question about it. In terms of resignation, that's a decision to be made by Senator Menendez and the people of New Jersey.


FOX (on camera): And new tonight, Senator Sherrod Brown, a vulnerable member running for re-election in the state of Ohio, becomes the second member asking Senator Bob Menendez to step aside, writing in a statement, quote, Senator Menendez has broken the public trust and should resign from the U.S. Senate. Pam?

BROWN: All right, Lauren, thank you so much.

And for more on this story, I'm joined by Defense Attorney and former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu. So, we heard Senator Menendez's explanation today for all that cash, hundreds of thousands of dollars in his home, but he did not address, noticeably, for anyone watching this, the gold bars in his home, which most people don't just have hanging around, right, or the Mercedes, the Mercedes Benz that was allegedly gifted to them. So, what did you make of what you heard from him today?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think he did answer the sort of common sense question of why don't you believe in banks? He's saying that's his habit. He keeps the cash around. I think the really difficult part for him to address, which he didn't, was sort of giving this inside information to these foreign contacts, including the information about the embassy personnel, which is obviously a big security risk. And so that's a little bit surprising. Actually they didn't even charge something like an espionage-type case there. That's the part, I think, from a prosecution standpoint is the most serious and most troubling.

It's very splashy and terribly bad optics. He has cash and gold in the house. That by itself though won't make the case for the prosecution. They've got to show that they are really official acts he took in return for all that stuff.

BROWN: An official acts key, right? It goes beyond just meeting with people. It has to be tangible steps that were taken.

WU: Exactly.

BROWN: But, you know, big picture, talk about how these kinds of cases, and, of course, we know he has faced similar unrelated bribery charges before that led to a mistrial and acquittal, some of the charges by a judge, but how all of this really erodes faith in the political process.

WU: Oh, yes, terribly for him, especially when it's the second time. Now, the cases are very distinguishable. The first time around, he had a personal relationship. Here, a little bit more of an arm's length relationship for him seems mostly through his wife that he's introduced to these people. I think the problem for the political system is it just looks as though this is part of the system, that when you become a very powerful, influential person you're receiving all these kinds of gifts. We see a similar parallel actually with the Supreme Court justices. They're saying nothing criminal obviously, no ethics issues here.

Here, he's not disclosing this information. It's likely to be a criminal violation as well for not disclosing it. He has been charged with actual bribery. And from the look of things, you have to think voters are asking, you know, why is it that when you're elected to represent us, you get the benefit of all these cash goodies.

BROWN: We'll have more to learn here. Shan Wu, thank you so much.

WU: Good to see you.

BROWN: Coming up, Donald Trump is intensifying his campaign schedule and preparing for a showdown of sorts with President Biden ahead of another Republican debate that he's skipping.



BROWN: It is a busy week on the campaign trail for Donald Trump. He's traveling across the country for rallies and speeches, skipping the second GOP debate, GOP rather. But it's also a very busy week for Trump on Truth Social.

Let's bring in our panel to discuss.

Kristen Holmes, on the campaign trail, first to you. Trump spent the day in South Carolina. Why is he focusing on that state?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he wants to be spending some time in these early voting states. We didn't see him out on the campaign trail, Pamela, for several weeks. Now, they do believe that he has a comfortable lead. We've seen that in national polls, and then these early voting states. But they're also looking at some of the polling, where these conservatives are saying that -- well, yes, they support former President Trump, they are open to an alternative.

So, they're pounding the pavement, visiting Iowa, New Hampshire in the next couple of weeks, South Carolina on multiple occasions, really trying to shore up that support, and in some ways, rally troops.

Now the other big thing this week I do want to point out is that trip to Michigan. I know we've been talking about. That is his team actually moving beyond this primary starting to look at that general election, trying to essentially try and grab these working class voters that they believe they can siphon off from the Democratic Party. But in order to do that, they do still have to win the primary and they are very focused on making sure that they do that -- Pamela.

BROWN: And we're going to talk a little more on that Michigan trip later because President Biden also going there the day before.

Alice, Trump is now ramping up his campaign stops but he's also skipping the second presidential GOP debate. The nomination is his to lose according to the polling. How crucial is it that someone emerges as a strong contender in this debate and what would that look like?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's imperative that someone do so. And I think we're going to see that in their debate strategy. How they're planning to go into this debate. I've spoken to all the candidates that will be on the stage.


And the big word we're going to see is contrast. They're going to use this as a chance to show a contrast between themselves and the other candidates on the stage, but also Donald Trump. They looked at the first debate as a way to introduce themselves to the national stage.

Now is the time to really take the gloves off and show why they're a better leader. Why they're better to win not just the primary but the general election. We're going to see jabs at Trump and at those on the stage. Some have said that it's time to stop tiptoeing around Donald Trump because it's clearly not working this sit-back and be nice strategy is not working.

They're going to find a way where they can lob these attacks or contrasts on Donald Trump without alienating the base. And I do believe based on what they're saying that's the plan for really trying to bridge the gap between them and Donald Trump.

BROWN: Bakari, I'm going to go back to South Carolina, your home state. You know, Donald Trump is encroaching on the territory of former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. What's the significant of his visit there today? We love to hear your perspective.


BROWN: And Tim Scott. That's right. We can't forget about him.

SELLERS: Yeah, don't forget about Tim.

No, I think that in South Carolina, if you ask anyone right now that Donald Trump will win the South Carolina primary going away, the question is who comes in, people thought Ron DeSantis would be second. But he's the closest thing running a presidential campaign in a long time.

And, so, I think that Nikki Haley has an opportunity here to run a strong second or Tim Scott to run a strong second. But let me just point out something that we've seen in the polling recently, which has jumped out to me and many people who are murmuring around the state of South Carolina in the head to head matchups, the person who consistently performs better against Joe Biden is not Donald Trump, it's not Ron DeSantis.

It actually is Nikki Haley. I think the Trump campaign sees that. And if that continues to go, she may be seen as that viable option. Nikki has one problem, though, which is that she is a fence sitter. She wants Trump to love her and then wants to replace him at the same time.

And so, she doesn't do a good job in these debates building that contrast. The question is will she separate herself from Donald Trump in MAGA enough to show that she can be an alternative, or is she just going to continue to stand in the shadow? I mean, that's her question.

BROWN: She seemed to be going a little bit more on the ledge in her recent speech in terms of going after Donald Trump and so forth. So we'll have to see in the debate how she plays it.

But, Kristen, I want to go back to the South Carolina trip today and this firearms store that Trump toured. Tell us what happened there.

HOLMES: Yeah, it was kind of a bizarre sequence of events. He had an off-the-record stop, which means nobody knows about it until he arrives there. It was at Palmetto Armory, which a firearms store. He looked at several different guns. One in particular was a Glock handgun that was custom made handgun that had a picture of him on it. It said 45 for the 45th president.

He's with Marjorie Taylor Greene. He said, oh, I want one of these. Then his spokesperson tweeted out that he had bought a Glock. Well, this, of course, sparked a lot of questions about the legality of that given the fact that he has at least two federal indictments and is under four indictments total. Was that actually legal for him to be purchasing a firearm in South Carolina?

Then the spokesperson deleted the tweet and clarified or at least confirmed or said or changed his tune, essentially saying that he did not buy a firearm, he just said that he wanted to buy a firearm. But, again, this kind of sparked a lot of questions about this and really brought Trump's legal problems into this South Carolina political rally today, all around the kind of assumption and this tweet that he had actually purchased a firearm.

BROWN: Yeah. Quite the turn of events with that visit today.

All right. Thank you all so much. Appreciate it.

STEWART: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: And still ahead, Hollywood could be back in business soon after the writers guild and the studios reach a tentative agreement to end a months-long strike.



BROWN: Hollywood movies and TV shows could be back in production soon. One of the longest strikes in the history of the Writers Guild of America is almost over after reaching a tentative agreement with the studios. CNN national correspondent Natasha Chen is covering this story for us

from Los Angeles.

And, Natasha, the writers guild could vote on this deal as early as tomorrow. But we still don't know what the deal, right?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Pamela. So the details may be released tomorrow as the negotiating committee first finalizes that memorandum with the studios and then recommends it for a vote to the entire membership.

Now, the entire membership, more than 11,000 writers, would have to ratify that for the strike to be officially over, a strike that's gone on for nearly five months.

And just to remind folks of what the writers were asking for initially, they were really fighting for better residuals on streaming shows and movies, protections regarding artificial intelligence when it comes to perhaps the machine taking writers' ideas and then creating content with that, minimum staffing levels as many studios have hired fewer and fewer writers for a particular show for shorter periods of time.

And that's created a situation where writers say those wages make it impossible for them to sustain a living in places like Los Angeles and New York. This, of course, is a positive development, but it doesn't mean that your favorite TV shows and movies will go back into production right away because the actors are still on strike, 160,000 of them. They will be picketing still this week.

SAG-AFTRA did say that they are looking forward to reviewing the writers agreement while they continue to urge the studios to come back to the table and make a fair deal with them. They really have -- these two unions have been working in lockstep throughout the summers. The actors have been on strike since July.

Of course, this means that Hollywood has been at a standstill. The Milken Institute tells me that the economic loss across the country has been at least $5 billion. And a lot of small businesses, custodians, makeup artists, prop houses, restaurants that serve these productions have lost so much money, laid people off, and they're wondering if the actors might get a deal before the holidays roll around -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Natasha Chen, thank you so much.

I'm Pamela Brown in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.